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Debate Over De-listing Grizzlies Heats Up

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Cody area lawmakers want the federal government to take grizzly bears off the endangered species list. They say there are more bears than ever outside Yellowstone. But others say the numbers don’t matter, and that the grizzly should remain protected.

Many Cody area residents have advocated for grizzly delisting for years. But, talk about delisting intensified this summer, after a grizzly killed a hiker in Yellowstone.

Wyoming’s Game and Fish says a grizzly track was found this fall near a new bike trail being constructed on BLM land, about a mile south of Beck Lake in Cody. 

Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden said he’s getting calls from people all over the county who are seeing more bears.

He explained, “We had them this summer just north of town. And, they desperately need to be delisted. You talk to a lot of the environmentalists and they say because of the lack of food in the high country that’s what’s pushing them down. But you talk to hunters and outfitters in the high country and they’re seeing as many bears up there as we have down here.”

Depending on who you listen to, or who lies to you, there could be as many as 1200 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, or IGBST reported in Cody in April that there were about 757 grizzlies in the entire Yellowstone ecosystem last year, the number being reported by some local media is much higher.

Wyoming State Senator Hank Coe said, “Depending on who you listen to, or who lies to you, there could be as many as 1200 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.”

 But, anecdotal sightings do not necessarily define a population size. For instance, in the early 2000’s there were so many grizzlies on the North Fork near Cody “Sixty Minutes” did a special on them. There are not many bears visible on the North Fork now.

The IGBST recommended turning over grizzly bear management to the states in 2013. And carnivore ecologist Dr. Jim Halfpenny, of Gardiner, Montana said it’s time.

He explained, “The purpose of the endangered species act is to take the might of the federal government and take care of a species that is in trouble until we can lift it up until it will survive in perpetuity. And then we give that management over to the state. I think we’ve reached that point with the grizzly bear.

But, a retired Cody ecologist spoke against delisting at Interagency Bear meeting in Cody. Chuck Neal is still against it, because the Yellowstone population is separated from other populations. Genetically isolated.

Neal said, “If we had 3000 bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, the bear would not be ready for delisting.  The reason I say that is the bear is still living on an island. He’s a population at risk as long as he lives on that island. We have no connectivity with other bear populations at this time.”

The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is also concerned about genetic and food source isolation. Wyoming Conservation Associate Jenny DeSarro in Cody says the GYC is acquiring easements from landowners to establish a path from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park.

 She said, “Their connectivity is crucial for their survival so Greater Yellowstone Coalition is already on the ground working on how we can connect the Crown of the Continent and the Yellowstone Populations.”

Desarro said the GYC believes grizzly bear survival depends on three things.

She said number one is, “Keeping their core habitat available and accessible to them.”

Desarro said that means managers must maintain low road density within the ecosystem.

She said GYC wants another thing for the bears’ survival: fewer conflicts with humans. She points out her organization gave a quarter of a million dollars to install new bear-resistant food storage boxes in U.F. Forest Service campgrounds surrounding Yellowstone.

She applauded the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s free bear spray giveaway to hunters. But, GYC is withholding judgmentde on delisting.

DeSarro explained, “The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is waiting for the delisting rule to be released. The challenge is in the details.”

Supporters of delisting say Wyoming wildlife managers would do a better job of controlling grizzly numbers and distribution. They feel that will reduce conflicts between humans and the bears.

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